In his meditations, Philosopher Marcus Aurelius said “Your life is what your thoughts make it.” When our thoughts are positive, we tend to feel good and interact smoothly with others. However, when our thoughts are mostly negative, we may feel anxious, depressed or angry; our interactions with others may be more difficult and tense.
Life is not always easy but we can turn “lemons into lemonade” if we harness the power of positive thinking. In an effort to reduce stress and promote peace of mind, consider the following tips to avoid common ‘traps’ in thinking:
- Reframe negative self-talk. We tend to be hardest on ourselves. When self-talk is negative, such as “I will never get this done,” make an effort to re-state the thought with supportive alternatives. Avoid negative labels of yourself and others.
- Don’t take it personally. When something disappointing occurs, don’t automatically fault yourself. Look more closely at the multitude of external factors that may have contributed to the problem. Take responsibility for your role, but avoid undue blame.
- Set realistic goals. Work and life satisfaction are tied closely with the achievement of goals. It’s okay to strive for excellence. Yet, keep in mind that perfection is unrealistic.
- Anticipate the positive. Exaggerated fears can make you feel anxious. Instead of anticipating the worst-case scenario, expect something valuable to come of each situation.
- Examine the evidence. Look at the facts surrounding a belief before jumping to a negative conclusion. Gather evidence that supports or refutes the thoughts, and think of other possibilities. If a close examination reveals negative elements, practice increasing your acceptance of that which is less than ideal.
- Find the middle ground. Our experiences usually fall somewhere between the extremes of all good or all bad. Try listing both the pros and cons. When describing a challenging experience, replace extreme terms such as “never” and “always” with a more realistic descriptor like “sometimes.”
- Look at the bright side. There is almost always a positive side to every issue. When examining a situation, look at it from several angles. Consider the learning and growth opportunities that can result from working through a difficult experience.
- End the day on a positive note. Each day may not go as smoothly as planned, but it is important to acknowledge the things that went well rather than dwell on the negative. Take a few moments each day to reflect on interactions that were pleasant or a work task that was satisfying.
If you are experiencing stressful thoughts that are interfering with your daily life, consult with your physician or a mental health counselor. The counseling process assists people in identifying, evaluating, and modifying beliefs that may be negatively impacting one’s emotions and relationships.